A Sporting Proposition

Two Crimson editors debate the merits of intramural sports on campus

I play, therefore IM

It was a brisk fall night when the teams of Quincy and Winthrop assembled under the lights of Harvard Stadium, prepared to carry on the hallowed tradition of football. But this was not just any football—this was flag football, the real sport of champions, a sport that requires agility, speed, and razor-sharp hand-eye coordination. You can’t just will the flags off a person’s waist; you must grab them with the precision of a karate master snatching a fly from the air, to achieve the greatness of Jared’s pants before the Subway diet.

It was on this fateful night that I inscribed myself into Winthrop IM history. Quincy’s quarterback was a particularly elusive creature, but with enough effort I was able to accumulate two sacks over the course of the game. My success, hard-won, at last earned me the nickname “Albert Haynesworth” (after the Tennessee Titans defensive tackle) among my Winthrop comrades.

Lest this sound too much like boasting, let me put this moment in context a bit. In real life, I’m a physics and computer science major—the most physical exertion I get on any given day is that of my fingers dancing across a keyboard. And yet, once a week on the IM pitch, I am able to put all of that behind me and get a full workout while teaming up with others in my house to defend the prized Strauss Cup.

That, for me, is the real achievement of IMs. They bring together a group of people who wouldn’t want to play official club sports and might never have met otherwise. They’re an outlet for fun and camaraderie on a campus where people regularly stay up into the wee hours debugging code or writing papers.

And let’s face it: If you have something against IMs, you’re probably in a house that sucks at IMs. And your house probably sucks at IMs because everyone in your house hates them. It’s a vicious cycle. Suck it up and find yourself some athletic glory.

Tomo Lazovich ’11, a Crimson IT editor, is a physics and computer science concentrator in Winthrop House.

Taking the Freedom out of Fun

Against IMs? Don’t I love the throwback headbands, the backs-against-the-wall pep talks, and the dorm and house pride that underlies it all? The problem with intramural sports at Harvard lies not in their existence itself, but in their classification as another organization.

Everything we do at Harvard has a title, a leader, an e-mail list, and, what’s worse, a sense of obligation. College life is defined by a stream of organizations: Not only our academic and extracurricular activities, but also our times to socialize, have become prearranged and grouped.

IM sports represent yet another blow in the fight against free time—free time not in the sense of having nothing to do, but in the sense of independence from any larger body. Just heading to the basketball court to shoot hoops would seem to most students shockingly unorganized; the pressure and organizational allure of IMs push back. Rowers not on the crew team, for example, cannot even skull on their own without being told, “You should do IMs!”

Sports are often the most fun when their outcomes mean the least. But, with playoffs, championships, and trophies on the line, IMs—supposedly informal leagues designed for recreation—distance themselves from the easy-natured activities they represent.

The division of IM teams into levels based on athletic ability makes them seem even more like regular organized sports teams. In an activity that is supposed to bring together people from different backgrounds sharing the same residence, classifying players as rank A, B, or C is a regression to the athletic culture that reigned in high school. And, because people don’t want to embarrass themselves, they commit to a lower skill-level team, creating more anxiety and self-consciousness than fun and spontaneity.

In the end, Harvard students’ desire to complicate, systemize, and regulate makes intramural sports more obligatory than optional, more competitive than inclusive, and too much like everything else we do here. A pickup game with friends is a great thing, but it doesn’t have to have its own board in the dining hall.

Marcel E. Moran ’11, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.

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